The last post I wrote on Watford FC was just over one year ago, yet in something similar to groundhog day, this post also comes in the final week of the season, and following the announcement of the departure of the club’s Head Coach, again once the final game has been played. Walter Mazzarri will leave the club after one season in charge following the home game against Manchester City on Sunday.
Inevitably, I will look forward to the usual uninformed pundits questioning the decision to once again change the Head Coach, despite avoiding relegation for a second season in a row (a tip here is to check twitter with the hashtag #watfordfc…it’s makes pretty clear reading of the feelings of the more vocal of Watford’s fanbase). The accusation of a lack of continuity will be raised, and inevitably, Watford will start the 2017/8 season as favourites for relegation again, however this is a model that Watford’s owner Gino Pozzo has established and one the club are comfortable with – continuity does not always include the Head Coach.
As for my opinion, while some my suggest me as a happy-clapper for saying it, I was one who hadn’t completely lost patience with Mazzarri, and I feel some of the fanbase showed little willingness to accept him and were happy to criticise any decision he made. However in the past few weeks, his position had come more and more untenable, and the decision of Pozzo and CEO Scott Duxbury came as no surprise, and I trust the club’s hierarchy to make the decision which is in the best interests of Watford Football Club.
The timing makes sense with hopefully a happier crowd on Sunday and I also hope, a pleasant farewell to the Head Coach who has become only the third Watford manager or Head Coach to keep the club in the top division. In the spirit of fairness, I have tried below to list reasons why Mazzarri can feel unfortunate while also listing errors made by the coach and the club which has led to his departure.
Why Mazzarri is unfortunate
Watford have suffered more than most with players absent through injury, and the long-term absence of record signing Roberto Pereyra, and then his replacement Mauro Zárate has been crucial, with Watford visibly lacking creativity in the final third. The number of soft tissue injuries was a worry particularly with rumours of over-training, but the types of injury sustained by Pereyra and Zárate cannot be legislated for.
Some fans had suggested Mazzarri lacked a plan B or was tactically inflexible, an accusation I believe to be unfair. The Italian came to the club determined to use his favoured 3-5-2 formation and this saw early success with victories over Manchester United, Leicester City, Everton and West Ham. With injuries and new arrivals, he moved to a 4-3-3 early in the New Year when Watford enjoyed a brief flurry of improved results. He has shown, unlike his predecessor Quique Sanchez Flores that he can adapt. Whether he’s used the correct tactics in individual games could be questioned, and certain team selections have left many a scratched head.
Unlike Flores, Mazzarri masterminded some stunning results, including the recovery from being two goals down against a Payet-inspired West Ham, excellent wins over Everton, Manchester United, away at Arsenal and in a backs-to-the-wall home game with West Bromwich Albion. Despite the feeling of an end of season friendly, his Watford side are the only team to have scored three at the home of champions Chelsea.
Mazzarri claimed his brief was to keep Watford in the Premier League. When all said and done, he achieved this with six games to spare.
Where Mazzarri went wrong
One of the most prominent features of Mazzarri’s tenure has been his dealings with the press through an interpreter. He joined the club having spent time in Manchester learning the language and the culture, and the fans were assured the Italian would learn the language and be able to communicate with players and fans alike in English. This has never happened and although most of Watford’s multi-national squad’s native tongue is not English, there have been many examples of Mazzarri trying to communicate his instructions via a member of his coaching staff or one of his Italian speaking players, and a suggestion of utter confusion on the pitch.
Interestingly, early on in the season, I met Mazzarri in a local restaurant and when he popped outside for a cigarette, tried to speak to him briefly…it was pretty clear he didn’t understand a word of what I said to him.
Choice of staff
Along the same lines as the communication problem was Mazzarri’s decision to bring a large contingent of staff with him. Previous changes in Head Coach saw many of the staff retained, including a locally born coach in Dean Austin, a former youth player who understood the fabric of the club. Austin was relieved of his role when the Head Coach joined, and I can’t help thinking that it was an error on the part of Mazzarri, who removed the continuity and was not challenged either via the language barrier or on alternative coaching thoughts. It was also an error on the part of the club in changing their established model by allowing Mazzarri to bring his complete team with him.
Relationship with the Fans
The opposite of the charismatic Sanchez Flores, Mazzarri made it difficult for the fans to warm to him, rarely applauding the fans after the game and more often than not, disappearing down the tunnel on the final whistle. Whereas other managers in the Premier League visibly ensure players acknowledge the supporters, it was often left to a few players to do this, and after recent poor performances, it was left to these same players to bear the brunt of the fans frustrations. This certainly didn’t help with his relationship with the fans, and probably didn’t with senior players either. Whether some things were lost in translation, Mazzarri’s post-match views on poor performances often caused irritation amongst the frustrated fan base.
Mazzarri joined the club with a reputation as a disciplinarian, however this wasn’t transmitted on to the pitch, with Watford topping the disciplinary charts, and far too many players cautioned for dissent. While injuries can be deemed unfortunate, the suspensions are harder to sympathise with.
Set Piece Woes
Watford’s defending in Monday’s game at Chelsea left much to be desired, and it carried on a theme of the season as a whole. Mazzarri was seen as a master tactician, yet it was in the most basic areas that the team often struggled.
Despite the odd excellent results, Mazzarri’s team produced some truly dreadful displays, including the home games with Tottenham and Stoke, and away games at Burnley, Liverpool, Millwall and Hull City. Three or four more points from these games and a cup win would probably have seen the team finish respectably in mid-table and the fans reasonably satisfied. His post-match suggestions at some of these games that he was happy with the performance only irritated the fans further.
Hopefully a fair and balanced view on the trials and tribulations of Watford’s latest Head Coach. In the end, his departure while disappointing, was inevitable and with talk of an unhappy squad, the correct decision. Watford again face a challenging summer, but Gino Pozzo has rightfully earned the trust of the majority of Watford fans, and they are once again trusting him to make the correct call on Watford’s new man in the hot-seat. It’s unlikely to be one of the early favourites in the betting stakes such as a Ranieri or thankfully a Pardew, but I’m sure a short list is already in place.